My musings on the mainstream media and culture.

Archive for the month “November, 2016”

Make the Pridelands Great Again: How Scar Overthrew the Kingdom By Mobilizing the Hyenas


Hey, antelope comrade, the system is rigged.


Once upon a time, there was a kingdom called the Pridelands, which was ruled by an elite group of lions. The lions, who represented a fraction of one percent of the kingdom’s population, controlled about 40 percent of the resources in the kingdom. They also frequently ate members of the middle class, like antelopes and elephants. This didn’t sit well with Simba, the bright young heir to the throne, so he asked his father King Mufasa why this seemingly oppressive practice was acceptable.

“It’s okay, Simba,” explained Mufasa. “It’s all part of the Circle of Life.”

“The Circle of Life?”

“Yes, son. You see, it may seem unfair. But when we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. And so we are all connected in the great Circle of Life. So, you see, Simba,” said Mufasa, “all lives matter.”

Simba was still skeptical. “But Dad,” he asked, “there are so many more of them than us. Why don’t they rise up and overthrow their oppressors?”

Mufasa laughed heartily. “You’re so funny, son!” he exclaimed. “Come, let’s go practice your pouncing skills on our humble and terrified servant Zazu.”

But there was one member of the lion elite who wasn’t so happy with the Circle of Life. That was Scar, the king’s brother. Scar was socially awkward and kind of funny-looking, so the other elite lions scoffed at him. And things were getting worse for Scar, because these days, the female lions were finally getting more power. There was talk of a young lioness named Nala becoming the leader someday, which enraged Scar, because his position in the lion patriarchy was the only thing that kept him feeling superior. On top of that, Nala wasn’t even a 10!

Unfortunately for the other lions — and for the kingdom as a whole — Scar was a sociopathic narcissist, so he devised a plan.  He started hanging out with the hyenas, who lived in an elephant graveyard that once housed manufacturing plants.  The jobs had moved to other lands, though, and the hyenas were poor, desperate, and despised by the rest of the Pridelands. In fact, disdain of the hyenas was one of the things that kept the middle class antelopes and elephants from overthrowing the lions, as they were easy scapegoats. “It’s the fault of those hyena scavengers!” cried the lions when resources were scarce, and the middle class animals believed them — and felt better about themselves because at least they weren’t as lowly as the hyenas.

Scar started holding rallies in the hyena lands. “If you help me become king,” he declared, “I’ll bring jobs back! Stick with me, and you’ll never go hungry again!”

“Hooray!” cried the hyenas.

“The lions want to make Nala the queen,” said Scar. “She’s the one responsible for the loss of your jobs because of trade deals she made with other lands.”

“Eat her up!” cried the hyenas.

“Ah,” said Scar below his breath, “I love the uneducated.”

So, with the help of the hyenas, Scar killed Mufasa and sent Simba into exile, and Nala returned to her inferior place in the patriarchal system. Unfortunately, Scar had no government experience or diplomatic skills, so the kingdom eroded into disarray. Of course, he abandoned his promises to the hyenas, who were as hungry and despised as ever.

We know how this story is supposed to end. Simba returns to the Pridelands and takes his “rightful” place as the king. Nala becomes his queen, and someday, she or another elite lioness might be the leader of the Pridelands.  The hyenas rebel against Scar and kill him, but after he takes over, Simba doesn’t provide anything better for them. The Circle of Life continues, and the elephants and antelopes continue to be dinner.

But maybe there’s an alternate ending. Maybe the antelopes will have some meetings, and start saying, “Hey! The system is rigged, and it’s the lions who are doing the rigging!” Maybe they’ll demand real change from the so-called Circle of Life. And maybe they’ll realize the hyenas are allies, not scapegoats, and maybe they’ll work side by side to create a truly democratic and egalitarian Pridelands.

Maybe. Or more than likely, the antelopes will go back to reality TV, Facebook, and other forms of Hakuna Matata. But maybe, just maybe, the antelopes and the hyenas will have their day.

A PBS NewsHour Fangirl Says Goodbye to Gwen Ifill


The degree to which we are PBS NewsHour fans is amusing. Also, kind of weird.

It’s not just that we’ve been watching NewsHour almost every night over dinner for the past decade, pressing the pause button every so often to discuss important points. It’s not just that we were celebratory when NewsHour Weekend began a few years ago, or that we get seriously excited when it’s time for Politics Monday or Shields & Brooks.

No, the true sign that I am a PBS NewsHour fangirl is that I have the NewsHour theme music as a ringtone on my phone. And, as a true fangirl, I need to clarify that my ringtone is of the old theme music. When they came out with the new music (which is really just a spiffed-up version of the old music), I literally felt sad. It just wasn’t the same.

There’s nothing on TV these days like the PBS NewsHour. In an era of so-called journalists screaming at each other and reporting about Twitter feeds on cable news, nothing comes close. NewsHour offers commercial-free, in-depth analysis that stands out in a medium dominated by sound bite coverage.  They report on all kinds of things that other outlets ignore, including an incredible amount of international news, and they offer thoughtful analysis by excellent commentators.

We love all the reporters on the NewsHour, and of course we refer to them by their first names, since we kind of feel like we know them by now. We love co-host Judy (Woodruff). We love weekend anchor Hari (Sreenivasan — aka the guy who is listed as my celebrity crush on my Yelp profile).

But hands down, co-anchor Gwen Ifill was our favorite. When our daughter was little, we used to point to the screen and say, “Look! Her name is Gwen too.” And our daughter would get excited and would say, “Good night, Gwen,” at the end of the broadcast. Because yes, we have our own Gwen. And no, she wasn’t named after Gwen Ifill. But I couldn’t think of a better honorary namesake for a young woman.

Because Gwen Ifill rocked. Her confidence radiated on the screen, as if it were no big deal to be part of the first all-woman co-anchor team in broadcast history, and as if it were no big deal to be a black woman in this role. Gwen was a middle-aged, larger black woman in a medium where none of those things are the least bit valued, and she owned it.

Like many of us, I’m sure that Gwen was excited about the possibility of the first female president. I wonder if at the end, she was holding on so that she could see that historic day. I’m so sorry you didn’t get to see this happen, Gwen. That makes the election results, and your death, all the more sad for me.

I learned that Gwen Ifill had died from a notification on my phone — the phone that plays the NewsHour theme music — and I burst into tears. Goodbye, Gwen. Thank you for making my household one of the most informed households on the block for this past decade. Our Gwen has literally grown up with you, and she will always remember you as an integral part of her childhood, eating dinner with her parents and learning about the world from a fabulous woman with the same name.  Thank you for being such a fabulous role model for our own Gwen. You will always be a legend in our family, and I will miss you with all my heart.

Mourning the New 9/11: An Open Letter to My Republican Friends

This is for my Republican friends — and specifically for those who voted for Donald Trump. More specifically, this is for those of you who are saying and wondering, “Why are they being so whiny after losing the election? We didn’t take to the streets when Obama was elected, right?”

I understand that Americans are doing a whole lot of speaking within their echo chambers right now — and I mean all of us, not just Republicans! We’re talking in completely different narratives about the election results — so much so that when we read conversations from the other side, the things we read might look completely foreign. So here’s my attempt to explain some of the feelings of despair and anger that you’ve been observing on social media and on the news and, perhaps, even in your real life conversations.

Republican friends: do you remember how you felt on 9/11?

I do, because I almost certainly felt the same way you did. Were you afraid for the future of your country? Did you feel angry and vulnerable? Did you feel a powerful sense of mourning — for the victims, but also because your country had been attacked viciously by people who meant to do great harm?

There were no echo chambers on 9/11 — at least not on that day. We all hurt and mourned together. I was sitting in the crowded cafeteria at the small college where I was teaching, and President Bush came on the screen to speak to the nation. There was total silence as we listened, the same way we would listen to a eulogy at a funeral of someone who had died tragically. I was no fan of that man, but in that moment, I was grateful to see him on the screen, offering us comfort in our mourning. There was comfort in knowing that we were united.

So imagine this, Republicans:

What if on 9/11, half of the nation was not mourning?

What if, on 9/11, half of the people you knew were saying the next day, “Get over it already! Why are we making such a big deal of this? It’s just some buildings. You’re all being childish and whiny.”

Presumably, you would have felt horrified. And moreover, the experience of 9/11 would have been so much worse for you, because so many of your fellow Americans were mocking the genuine feelings of mourning you felt.

So, Republicans, here’s where I ask you to step outside of your echo chamber and try to understand what many of your fellow Americans are feeling.

To us, the election of Donald Trump is nothing short of another 9/11. We strongly feel that a man has just gotten elected who has the capacity to do great harm to our nation and to  the most vulnerable among us. Like you, we are patriots, and for this reason, we mourn because our country is in serious danger. On 9/11, terrorists with the intent to harm America did just that — and based on what we saw in the election, we fear that Trump will do the same kind of harm.

That may be hard for you to wrap your head around, because I know you feel very differently about Trump. But if you’re genuinely wondering why people are reacting the way they are to the election, please try to understand what I’m saying.

Let me make this clear:  this is not how we would have felt if a different Republican had defeated Clinton, like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio. I would have been pretty miserable if one of those men were the president elect. But I would not be in mourning. I would not be thinking seriously of going to a protest march in Washington the day after the election.  No, the reaction you see is specifically a reaction to Trump.

Why do so many Americans feel that the election of Trump is a danger to the well-being of America, and to many of our citizens personally? If you’re still reading, let me summarize some of the evidence we see that Trump is a dangerous man. I know very well that you see different things than I do in regards to Trump, but if you’re curious, these are some of my biggest concerns:

  • Trump has clear authoritarian tendencies, much like Hitler, Mussolini, Kim Jong-un, and Putin. Trump has manipulated those with economic and social fears by creating scapegoats out of Mexicans and Muslims.  (As a Jew, that scares the pants off of me.)  At his rallies and in the debates, he threatened to jail his opponent and said he would not concede the election.
  • Trump has no government experience whatsoever. None. Unlike most of the other Republican candidates, Trump offered very little information about his policy positions and plans. He is grossly unqualified for the most powerful position in the world.
  • Trump put antidemocratic restrictions on the press during his campaign (like literally corralling them into a pen during his rallies), and worked his followers into an anti-press frenzy at his rallies. He plans to place restrictions on the press during his presidency. I would hope that those of you who are staunch supporters of the Second Amendment are also strong supporters of the First Amendment, which guarantees us a free press.
  • As seen by his behavior on Twitter and elsewhere, Trump has a very thin skin and no self-control when he is criticized in any way. And now he has the nuclear codes.
  • Trump’s misogyny is very well-documented. He has bragged about how his celebrity gives him license to assault women. He bragged about being able to walk into the dressing room at his beauty pageants, and publicly humiliated a Miss Universe who gained weight. Many women have accused Donald Trump of sexual assault and harassment, including a 13-year-old girl.
  • Despite the fact that almost all scientists believe that climate change is an extinction-level danger to humanity, Trump has said that climate change is a hoax. If that’s not something to mourn about, I don’t know what is.
  • Trump has called for the ban on Muslims entering America and flat out lied about seeing television footage of Muslims in New Jersey cheering after 9/11. He has called Mexicans rapists and “bad hombres,” and has threatened to deport millions of people, including children. This kind of racism and xenophobia goes against my fundamental values. Oh, and he mocked a reporter with a disability.
  • Trump chose a vice presidential candidate who is one of the nation’s most outspoken opponents of LGBT rights — and that too goes against my fundamental values.
  • Trump is endorsed by the KKK and Putin.  That doesn’t scare you?
  • Trump has threatened to take away the health insurance of millions of people.
  • Trump has lied routinely about just about everything. Seriously. If you don’t like Clinton because you question her honesty, then how can you be okay with this record of lies? Moreover, he has routinely changed his position on many issues over the years when it suited his interests — including abortion, a position he changed to earn the votes of many Republicans this year.
  • Perhaps most frighteningly, since the election, there’s been a wave of violence since the election towards women, minorities, and LGBT individuals. That’s what many of us fear most. No, not all Trump supporters are bigots and sexual predators, but these behaviors have now been given state approval.

I know you will not agree with many of these positions, but I hope you can understand. Like you, I am a patriot. I love this country and the people who live here, and I believe this country is in danger. I am in mourning, just like I felt after 9/11, and so are many of your fellow Americans. And our sense of mourning is even more painful because so many people in our lives are telling us to get over it.

So, when you see people on the news who are protesting on the streets, or expressing their feelings on Facebook, or sobbing at your upcoming Thanksgiving dinner, please try to be understanding. You wouldn’t have told people on 9/12/2001 to stop whining or to get over it, right?

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